Friday 27 April 2018

Outsiders in fashion as Offaly show little faith in their own

Kevin Ryan from Waterford takes the Offaly reins for 2017. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Kevin Ryan from Waterford takes the Offaly reins for 2017. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Times may have changed for the worst in Offaly hurling but the county's long-held devotion to imported managers remains intense as Waterford's Kevin Ryan becomes the ninth outsider to land the position in the past 25 years.

No other county has ignored its own to the same degree, raising the question of why the rich legacy of the hugely successful 20-year period between 1980 and 2000 has not been reflected in the managerial ranks.

Offaly are also big football importers, having had nine outside managers over the last 35 years.

It puts them at the top end of that scale too in what is clear proof that when it comes to appointing managers, the Faithful's power-brokers believe that looking over the fence is the best option.

Of course, the successes with outsiders is a major contributor in a pattern which does not apply to anything like the same degree in other counties.

It's to continue after Ryan's experience with Carlow and Antrim earned him the nod in a field where Danny Owens' record appeared to make him a genuine 'home' contender.


An All-Ireland medal winner in 1981 and 1985, he led Kilcormac-Killoughey to three successive Offaly senior titles and one Leinster title since 2012, but while it's understood he was interested in the county job, it went to Ryan, who completed his stint with Antrim last year.

Since John McIntyre (Tipperary) was in charge for two separate stints in two different decades, Ryan's appointment means that ten of the last 14 hurling managements were led by outsiders. That leaves Pádraig Horan, Pat Fleury, Joe Dooley and Brian Whelahan as the only local managers over the past 25 years.

Horan, team captain in 1981, managed Offaly to their first National League title in 1991, while Fleury led them to the 2000 All-Ireland final, where the lost to Kilkenny after dethroning reigning champions Cork in the semi-final. He left after one season.

Offaly's graph has tumbled in the intervening years, with seven managers - five of them outsiders - unable to mine much from narrowing talent seams, a problem reflected at underage level which hasn't yielded a Leinster minor or U-21 title since 2000.

The outside influence on Offaly has increased in recent times with Liam Sheedy (Tipperary) heading the committee which appointed Eamonn Kelly last year, while Nickey Brennan (Kilkenny) fulfilled a similar role in recent weeks, ending with Ryan's nomination which will go before the county board for ratification next week.

While Sheedy, who managed Tipperary to All-Ireland success in 2010, and Brennan, a former GAA president, Kilkenny player and manager, undoubtedly brought expertise to the task, it seems strange that a county board would seek outside help in appointing a manager on two occasions 12 months apart.

The committee eventually chose Ryan to replace Kelly, who quit after a difficult season during which he took heavy personal criticism following Offaly's defeat by Westmeath in the Leinster 'round robin' last May.

Kelly has since moved on to Laois, taking over from Séamus 'Cheddar' Plunkett, who resigned after being in charge for four seasons.

Ryan becomes the first Waterford man to manage Offaly, which has had four Tipperary bosses as well as two from Clare and one each from Kilkenny, Limerick and Galway since the early 1980s. Outsiders were involved with most of Offaly major successes in both codes, starting with Westmeath-born, Tullamore-based, Fr Tom Gilhooley, who headed the management that steered the team to the county's first All-Ireland senior title in 1971, a win they replicated in the following season. A decade later, Eugene McGee (Longford) managed the footballers to the famous win over Kerry in the All-Ireland final, while Offaly's last two big football successes (1997 Leinster title, 1998 league) were presided over by Tommy Lyons (Dublin).

Dermot Healy (Kilkenny) coached the 1981 hurling team to a first All-Ireland hurling title with Andy Gallagher as manager and four years later Healy steered them to a second All-Ireland triumph. Eamonn Cregan (Limerick) was at the helm when Offaly won a third All-Ireland in 1994, while Michael Bond (Galway) led them to a fourth success in 1998, having taken over from 'Babs' Keating in mid-championship.

Those heady days when Offaly won a range of titles and challenged for many more are long since gone, replaced by a mediocrity that left them without a win in the Leinster football championship between 2007 and this year when they ended the long barren spell with victory over Longford.

The hurlers dropped even further and were forced into the Leinster 'round robin' this year, where they had to recover from a first round defeat by Westmeath before eventually squeezing into the quarter-finals by beating Carlow and Kerry.

They lost to Galway in the semi-final and to Wexford in the qualifiers.

Prior to that, they had not won a game in Leinster since 2012. Ryan has targeted a place in the top half of Division 1B as the first priority.

They will play either Laois, Westmeath, Kerry or Meath in the Leinster quarter-final.

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